Slowly but surely local history societies are being transformed from societies in which members enjoy historical lectures to societies in which members engage upon historical research. More and more lay people are undertaking research projects of local interest which create and promote further interest by other people in the history and heritage of their locality and in the study of history itself. However the absence of primary source material for many areas has proved a major hindrance, indeed an insurmountable obstacle, to some people seeking to pursue a particular angle of research. Members of Craigavon Historical Society are fortunate that with the deposit of the Brownlow Papers in 1984-85 in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland a wealth of documentary material is available for persons wishing to engage upon research projects.
In total some 520 volumes and c.9,300 documents were deposited by Watson & Neill, Solicitors, Lurgan, on behalf of John Desmond Cavendish Brownlow, 5th Baron Lurgan. With some exceptions, this collection can be described as an estate archive, documenting the history and management of the Brownlow's estate. It relates largely to their land in the manors of Brownlowsderry and Richmount in the Lurgan area, County Armagh, including Lurgan town itself and the adjacent areas of west Down and south-west Antrim, 1619-1960, but also to property in Magheracloone parish, barony of Farney, County Monaghan, 1753-94, and in Philipstown parish, barony of Ardee, County Lough, 1753.
The Brownlow estate, as with most large estates, was virtually a self-contained community. The estate provided the free holders and tenants with either direct employment or employment opportunities, housing or rather the land on which to build housing, educational and health care, commerce and trading facilities, and places of worship. Thus the archive holds interest not just for the agriculturist or economic historian but also for the political, social, educational, church and urban historian. A variety of possible research projects await to be tackled by the historian be he or she professional or amateur.
Very little need be said about the arrangement of the archive, which is self-explanatory. As regards its content; apart from the occasional references in a very few account books to the County Louth and County Monaghan estates, c.1753 and 1758-9, and a series of rentals for County Monaghan, 1755-94. it is exclusively concerned with the County Armagh estate and related interests.
There are 4 volumes containing abstracts of tithe deeds relating to the County Armagh estate, 1722-90,1826 and 1880; 566 title deeds (patents, marriage settlements, mortgages, and miscellaneous agreements), 1610-1932, and c.80 wills and testamentary papers relating to members of the Brownlow family, 1660-1883. There are 12 leasebooks recording leases on the estate, 1710-51 and 1826-91; 4,000 leases and associated documents relating to agreements made between the Brownlow family and their tenants; and 6 volumes and 4 associated documents relating to evictions from the estate, 1830-80. 2,269 documents relate to the Irish land Commission and the buying out of the estate, 1881-1918.
Account book and rental material comprise: some 83 personal and estate account books, 1711-1933; 10 household account books and inventories, 1754-75; and 13 volumes of labourers' wages books, relating to Brownlow House, farm demesne and garden, 1750-61 and 1854-93; and 273 rentals, rent-rolls and rent day books for the County Armagh estate, 1755-94. In the same section there are also 14 mass rentals, 1827-90, 17 tithe rentals for Lurgan, 1852-69, and 4 bundles of letters re tithes in Shankill and Ardmore parishes, County Armagh, 1827 and 1850-76.
Local politics and local government (the latter particularly in the sphere of education) are amply documented in the archive. There is a poll book for County Armagh, 1753, and 100 registers of County Armagh freeholders, 1800-50.
There are 5 memorial court books for the manors of Brownlowsderry and Richmount listing the jury, overseers and 'grievances', 1776-1847, and 117 documents relating to Lurgan Courthouse, Lurgan Workhouse, Lurgan Town Commissioners and the office of High sheriff of County Armagh, 1834-81. In the section dealing with educational material there is a register, 1786-95, of Lurgan Free School, established in 1786 for the education of poor children in Shankill parish, which also includes a list of subscribers to the school, 1786-94, accounts for clothing given to children, 1786-94, and a list of poor people in Shankill parish with details of aid provided to prevent street begging, 1810-14, together with a minute book of the school, 1786-1848, with accounts, 1786-1850, and details of the setting up of the school. There are also c.900 documents, including correspondence, attendance returns, etc., relating to national schools on the Brownlow estate in County Armagh, including Ardmore, Tullygally, Breagh, Dollingstown, Tanaghmore, Richmount, Aghacommon, Turmoyra and Derrycaw, 1826-90; 143 documents including correspondence, accounts, minutes etc., 1862-1941, relating to Lurgan Ragged School, later Queen Street National School; and 35 documents relating to the establishment of Lurgan Model School, 1858-77. There are, in a different section, 30 booklets on the 'Orders, Rules and Regulations of Lurgan Yeomanry', and a list of enrolled men for the militia in the parishes of Shankill, Tartaraghan and Seagoe, 1793-5 and 1831.
Maps, plans, valuations, etc., comprise: 2 volumes of maps of the manor of Brownlowsderry, the first surveyed by Patrick Dougan, 1751, the other by Alexander Richmond, 1831; a volume of maps of the manor of Richmount, 1830, and a volume of maps of the turf bogs in Richmount, 1841, both surveyed by Alexander Richmond; and c.300 architectural plans and drawings of Brownlow House and of Lurgan School, by W H Playfair, 1834-8. There are also 2 bundles of tithe valuations and 13 related volumes for parishes of Moyntaghs, Shankill, Drumcree, Maralin and Seagoe, 1833-60; 9 miscellaneous valuation volumes, c.1756 and 1819-1912; 15 volumes relating to Poor Law Valuation for Union of Lurgan, Banbridge, Clogher and County Armagh, 1850-64 and 1889.
Other more miscellaneous material includes 18 bundles of correspondence and 18 letter books involving Lord Lurgan, his agents and solicitors on estate-related business, 1833-1945, and c.60 documents relating to church and parish matters in the parish of Knock-namuckly and Tartaraghan, 1824-5 and 1859-77.
One can be completely over-whelmed by a catalogue of statistics, and obviously any brief list of items in the collection does not allow one to grasp the importance of individual documents or volumes. Behind each document or volume stands a story, each item not only contributes to our knowledge of history but holds a history in itself. A good example of this are the two volumes relating to Lurgan Free School. These volumes have an interest, not only for the student of the history of elementary education in Ireland long before the state system of non-denominational national schools were established in 1831, but also for genealogists as they include a register of children attending the school 1786-95 giving parents names, place of residence and religion with occasional notes on reading ability.
A number of meetings were held during August 1786, to lay the 'Plans of a School for the Education of poor Children in the Town and Neighbourhood of Lurgan'. It was agreed that the school be established by subscription from the wealthy citizens and that the children would be taught free, so that they might be able to read and be 'instructed in the Principles of the Christian Religion'.
An 'indispensible condition' of admission into the school was that' ... all the Children Shall Once on every Sunday attend some place of Publick Worship clean and in such Apparel as they have'. Allowing the children to attend 'some place' of worship paved the way for Roman Catholics to send their children to the school; indeed some 35%-50% of the pupils who enrolled when the school opened in 1786 were Roman Catholic -'Papists' as they were termed in the school records.
The school was accommodated in two houses near the Episcopalian (Church of Ireland) church in Lurgan, acquired from Rt Hon William Brownlow, for an annual rent of £3 8s. 3d. Interestingly, these houses were called the 'old School House'; had a similar venture been tried earlier and failed? Two teachers were engaged for the new school, Mathew Waring, who was to be paid sixteen guineas a year and John Mullholm, who was to be paid twelve guineas a year. Between 1 April and 1 October of each year, pupils were to attend school between 8 am -6 pm and the rest of the year between 9 am - 3 pm daily.
The first subscriptions for the new school raised £68 1Os. 5d. The subscribers agreed that after payment of teachers' salaries, rent of the school room, and purchase of books, any surplus money would be used to buy clothes for the poorest pupils most in need. It was also agreed that 'those children who by being otherwise usefully employed cannot attend the school on other days Shall be taught on Sundays in those Hours which will not hinder their Attendance on Devine Worship'.
The Church of Ireland rector and curate along with the 'Dissenting Ministers' were appointed as Trustees of the Fund. A meeting of subscribers, held on 23 August 1786, appointed a Committee of these three trustees and four lay-representatives (who were also subscribers) to carry the scheme into execution. The committee only needed a simple majority to act, which meant, the laity could, if need be, out vote the clergy. Meanwhile a general meeting of all subscribers would meet in September, December, March and June of each year.
The school opened in September 1786 and the register contains the names and details of some 480 pupils who attended between 1786 and 1795. The interesting information obtained from the Free School volumes reveals the harvest of historical material ripe for examination in the Brownlow archive. The leases, the rentals, the account books and the correspondence are all ideally suitable for research. Excellent research facilities are available in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland and its Public Search Room and Reading Room are open to the public Monday to Friday, 9.15 am - 4.45 pm.